BIG SHOWS, PERSONALITIES
AND THE FAITH IN THE LISTENER
The selling point of the conference was the prominent personalities that in one way or another marked last year for UK radio market.
As speakers, you had Greg James (the new morning show host of BBC Radio 1), Zoe Ball (the new morning show host of BBC Radio 2), Frank Skinner (the comedian and radio host of Absolute radio). Moreover, Simon Mayo – the BBC legend who left it for new classical music station Scala FM. Only one missing was Chris Evans, I guess.
What stuck with me was the passion all of them have for radio – radio is a lifestyle and not just a job for them.
It might sound like a cliche, but that is what I felt. The other thing that became apparent only after the whole day was that they were all telling the same story – trust the audience to have better stories than you.
In their shows, they are not afraid to risk it a bit. They plan and prepare everything in advance, however, if a great caller comes on air, or there is a brilliant text – they all react on it. It makes the shows live and more connected with the audience.
The takeaway – always listen to your audience and adapt!
NEW AGE OF THE DIGITAL AUDIO
Unlike print and TV that were disrupted by the technology, radio managed to hold its ground. All around Europe radio is strong both in ratings and revenues.
The change is coming. Moreover, it is driven by technology firms that have large budgets for producing content.
Netflix changed the TV (and film) industry. The amount of money they invest in the original content is staggering. These days they have over 148 million paying subscribers.
Spotify is now in the top five podcast platforms in the world. On the board of Spotify are the same people that were on the board of Netflix when the strategy to go all in on original content was born.
Around 10% to 20% of the listening for the top world podcasts come from Spotify right now. However, Spotify can earn more money from the podcasts than the music (because of the rights), especially if they start to produce their podcasts. Spotify wants to become the new Netflix because it needs to do it to survive.
Pair that with the algorithms for a recommendation, and you get a severe disruptor on the younger end of the demo.
Google is going all in on podcasts by integrating them in the search. So now, when you search for a podcast on Google, you will get the audio player in your browser.
New BBC app Sounds is trying to rival Spotify, and they will be opening to other content producers (and competitive radio stations) to implement their content in the app. They are aware that the audience now has the choice and that in the bigger picture the main competition are not rival radio stations, but the likes of Spotify and other big tech firms.
On the tactical level, for the radio stations, the advice was to keep in mind the platforms that you are on:
- Branding of your channels and programs is essential. In the app, before they play the podcast, they will see the thumbnail and the description.
- Only some of your podcasts will listen to your platform. So creating a sonic branding for your brand is as important as the sonic branding for the show/podcast (think of the HBO intro before every HBO show).
- Smart speakers are coming and becoming more intelligent and better in understanding humans. Make sure that your brand and shows are easy to find there (try saying Alexa play Up First).
When it comes to music – young people don’t care for genres. They like to think about music in terms of mood – so music for relaxing, running, working, cooking.
Work on your digital offerings, but don’t forget to surprise the listener. Great radio still has the advantage of serendipity. You listen to the station, and often you are surprised in the right way, by topic or song you didn’t expect. This is something that current algorithms on music services can’t crack yet.
PODCASTS HAVE GROWN UP AND ARE NOW BRINGING REVENUE
You can’t have a radio conference without podcasts now. They entered the mainstream. You might hate them, not understand them or ignore them. However, the topics on Radfest were no longer about were Podcasts viable or not, but how to increase the monetization.
Companies are earning money from podcasts. One of the great examples is the Daily by NYT, which started this trend of news summaries on a daily base. It was followed by the NPR Up First, and now big media houses (radio, print and digital) are trying to enter that market.
On the way to the conference, I had to take ten stations in a subway and what I noticed was that almost everybody, in a fully packed wagon, had headphones. Moreover, more people were listening to something than watching the screens. It could have been music, radio, but I bet you a lot of them were listening to podcasts.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
If I had any expectations of killer power presentation slides that I will take away and show to the clients – then no.
However, sitting at the airport writing this – I feel inspired and full of ideas on the present and the future of the radio and digital audio.
This one-day full of short sessions format works like a charm. Even when you get a session that doesn’t connect – you know it will be over soon. On bigger conferences like Radio Days, there is often a feeling you are missing one session while some French lady reads about the digital future of the radio from handwritten notes. No fear of missing out here and that is great!
Plus, I had the best London weather for three days!